Director-star Julie Delpy‘s portrait of a disintegrating relationship immune even to the charms of the City of Love isn’t as much an “anti-date” movie as her other talk-heavy Parisian romp, Before Sunset (which is a film about two people in love with each other even though they’re both in separate relationships), but it’s definitely less romantic; 2 Days in Paris is sometimes difficult to watch as French-born photographer Marion (Delpy) and neurotic American interior designer Jack (Adam Goldberg), a longtime couple on the verge of complete and total romantic and sexual collapse, suffer each other’s presences for another two days in the French capital city after their trip to Venice failed to reignite those old sparks. Jack finds even more to fret about when he discovers that Marion has kept in touch with several ex-lovers over the years (and often finds himself frustrated by the language barrier) while she starts to wonder what her life might’ve been (and who she might be sharing it with) if she had never moved to New York. Bravo to Delpy for making this smart, witty (it’s actually heavily improvised, something she learned from working with Richard Linklater) and obviously very personal film (her real-life parents play her character’s parents); both she and Goldberg are excellent as they venture into sections of Paris that Hollywood (and tourists) often ignores — and touchy areas of longtime relationships that Hollywood is often too chickenshit to really explore with any sense of realism or maturity.
This creepy indie flick will have your skin crawling from the very first scene all the way through the closing credits — and perhaps even beyond. Desmond Harrington (pre-Dexter) plays Kenneth, a shy and socially awkward tech writer who plunges into a bizarre, obsessive and ultimately abusive relationship with Nikki, a pretty blonde who moves in with him. What makes this tale even darker (and weirder) is the fact that Nikki is a sex doll, one that starts to get in the way when Kenneth attempts a “real” relationship with a co-worker named Lisa (Melissa Sagemiller), who bears more than a passing resemblance to his plastic paramour. Love Object starts to come apart at the seams a little when it delves into Saw kind of territory in the last act, but it’s to director Robert Parigi’s credit that his nasty little freakshow never loses its ability to keep you completely transfixed — and make you rather uncomfortable throughout. Harrington and Sagemiller are both excellent in very difficult roles; we’d say Nikki the Sex Doll steals the show if it weren’t for the fact that Udo Kier plays Kenneth’s cranky landlord.
If a movie features a woman smashing her husband’s genitals with a block of wood and then masturbating him until he ejaculates blood, there’s a good chance it was directed by Lars Von Trier. Danish cinema’s infuriating enfant terrible (and, admittedly, one of the most uncompromising and startlingly original filmmakers living today) suffered from severe depression throughout most of the first decade of the 21st century, and from that experience came Antichrist, an outrageous, exhausting and often mesmerizing experiment in testing audience endurance that just might qualify as therapy (for what? Who knows?). Willem Dafoe is “He” and Charlotte Gainsbourg is “She” (oh no…), a married couple whose child jumped out a window to his death while they were having sex in the shower; She’s not taking it too well, so they retreat to a cabin in the woods where He attempts to serve as her shrink and counselor as she struggles with overwhelming feelings of sexual guilt, which eventually escalate into extreme acts of violence against herself (we won’t go into that here, as you’re probably still reeling from that first sentence) and her husband. You also get a talking fox who whispers cryptic observations like “Chaos reigns” and a tree from which sprouts several human arms whilst He and She make love at its base. Yeah, don’t watch this with a date. In fact, don’t watch this with anyone.
Gaspar Noe delivers another punch-drunk phantasmagoria with this harrowing tale of vengeance that ended up being one of the most controversial films of 2002 (and a few years following as well). Someone claims “Time destroys everything” in the very first scene (or, rather, last), and from there we’re on a reverse-chronological journey in which Alex (Monica Bellucci), a pregnant French woman, is put into a coma after being brutally raped by a street thug known as “le Tenia” (“the Tapeworm”); her boyfriend Marcus (Vincent Cassell) and former lover Pierre (Albert Dupontel) swear revenge on her assailant and descend into the Parisian underworld to track him down. Noe once again casts a spell with his trademark experimental storytelling style and creative camerawork, but any and all filmmaking artistry is inevitably overshadowed by the graphic and lengthy rape scene, which is still the subject of much discussion and debate a decade later. Irreversible makes for a powerful experience, if not exactly an enjoyable one; Noe completists will recognize “the Butcher,” the protagonist from I Stand Alone, delivering a drunken monologue. By the way, the electronic music score comes courtesy of Thomas Bangalter, who makes up one half of Daft Punk.
A crass and hokey Lifetime-ish B-movie (complete with a dime-novel title) disguised as a classy thriller because, well, the Pretty Woman herself is in it, Sleeping with the Enemy shows us that secret swimming lessons at the YWCA can get you out of an abusive marriage. Laura (Julia Roberts) has a great house on Cape Cod that unfortunately comes with a completely controlling and obsessive husband (Patrick Bergin, hamming it up and down and sideways); after faking her own death, she flushes her rock down the toilet and flees to Cedar Falls, Iowa, where she changes her name and gets the attention of the local college drama teacher (Kevin Anderson). Unfortunately, one of Laura’s dumb friends from the YWCA calls the house, through which Martin learns of her swimming lessons and figures that, if you know how to swim, there’s no way you could’ve drowned at sea (right?); the wedding ring he later finds stuck in the toilet (should’ve flushed twice, Laura!) puts him hot on her trail. Pretty Woman made Roberts a superstar, but Sleeping With the Enemy, released just about one year later, proved it was no fluke; this thing went on to gross over $174 million worldwide and managed to kick Home Alone out of the top box office spot after 11 consecutive weeks at number one. It’s a guilty pleasure at best, though one we’re sure Roberts isn’t exactly proud of; we imagine this is listed in a smaller font on her resume.